This is the second panel discussion of “Nancarrow at 100: A Centennial Celebration” a three day festival of films and music celebrating the life and work of Conlon Nancarrow. The festival was produced by Other Minds in collaboration with Cal Performances, the U. C. Berkeley Art Museum and the Pacific Film Archive and was held on November 2-4, 2012. This panel discussion was the first event held on November 4, 2012, following which there was a film presentation at the Pacific Film Archive Theater, and a concluding concert, also held at Hertz Hall on U. C. Berkeley campus.
Moderator Charles Amirkhanian is joined by sound sculptor Trimpin, composer and musicologist Kyle Gann, pianola virtuoso Rex Lawson, the piano duo of Amy Williams and Helena Bugallo, composer and percussionist Dominic Murcott with fellow percussionist Chris Froh, and violinist Graeme Jennings. The main topic discussed was the challenge in using either a digital controller placed on top of a piano keyboard, a pianola, or two pianists in order to reproduce the player piano music of Nancarrow. All agreed that due to the varying types of mechanical and human interfaces used in these arrangements some of the intensities of the original rolls need to be adjusted, and some of the notes are slightly off key, with different dynamics or tempo, or otherwise alternatively interpreted. To demonstrate some of the tradeoffs required when transcribing or arranging Nancarrow’s music we hear a number of examples including “Para Yoko” performed with a digital Vorsetzer controller, “Study No. 6” performed on the pianola as well as a version for piano four-hands. Even more adventurous reinterpretations follow with Murcott’s reworking of Nancarrow’s “Piece for Tape” into a work for percussion, and Nancarrow’s Tocatta performed with a pianola and violin. As Murcott admits, when Nancarrow’s compositions call for more notes than is humanly possible to play, compromises must be made, and yet it is still possible to impart the energy and even intentions of the composer if not the pitch perfect reproduction of every note.
The panel discussion also includes Kyle Gann presenting some piano rolls recovered from the Nancarrow archive for which he receives some help from the panel in identifying these unnamed or incomplete sketches. The event then concludes with Rex Lawson performing an excerpt from Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” an originally orchestral work which the well known composer had personally transcribed for player piano.
The 7:00pm concert was the concluding event of the festival and the second to be held at Hertz Hall on the U. C. Berkeley campus on November 4, 2012.
Following the earlier panel discussion on how Nancarrow’s compositions for player piano have been arranged for live performance and a variety of instrumental groups, this concert features many examples of these transcriptions. The first half of the concert began with Nancarrow’s “PIece for Tape” first heard as originally conceived, and then followed by Dominic Murcott’s arrangement for solo percussion, performed by Chris Froh. Pianolaist extraordinaire Rex Lawson then takes the stage, joined by violinist Graeme Jennings, to present an arrangement of Nancarrow’s Toccata for Piano and Violin. Not quite satisfied with the audio balance of the performance the two repeat the work this time with pianola lid down and then ask the audience which they liked best, to which the laughing reply was “play it again.” Rex Lawson follows this with the first American performance by a single performer of Igor Stravinsky’s own arrangement for player piano of his “Le Sacre du Printemps” or “Rite of Spring.” After an intermission the concert concludes with the Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams Piano Duo presenting a selection of arrangements of Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, as well as his solo piano works “Nine Early Pieces” and “Sonatina.” These works have been arranged, mostly for piano four-hands, by Williams, Bugallo, Erik Oña and Yvar Mikhashoff.
For more detailed program information and to browse other material in the Other Minds Archive visit: radiOM.org